Excommunication and politics in thirteenth-century England

Hill, Felicity (2016) Excommunication and politics in thirteenth-century England. Doctoral thesis, University of East Anglia.

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Abstract

Excommunication, the medieval church’s severest penalty, played a significant role in
thirteenth-century English politics. Kings and their ministers were threatened with the
sanction, as were rebels threatening the peace or the king’s rights. Disputes involving
clerics invariably involved excommunication, which clergy used against anyone who
infringed their rights. This thesis examines the various political and social
consequences of papal and episcopal excommunication in thirteenth-century England.
The implication of excommunication, strengthened by a solemn ritual ceremony, was
that it condemned the sinner to hell. Its social effects were equally severe. An
excommunicate was infected with spiritual leprosy, and the faithful were therefore
obliged strictly to shun excommunicates as entirely separated from Christian society.
In practice, the reactions of individuals and communities to excommunication varied
considerably. Some were undoubtedly terrified of excommunication’s spiritual
consequences, but many others demonstrated little concern. Sometimes temporal
concerns were prioritised, yet individual consciences might excuse contempt for the
sanction when it was misused. Communities might equally reject the church’s use of
excommunication, refusing to treat excommunicates appropriately.
Nevertheless, excommunication could be exploited. Though many obstacles prevented
excommunication being consistently effective, it might be used to justify rebellions or
attacks against excommunicates, who were no longer part of the Christian community.
It provided religious validation for enterprises that might otherwise be unacceptable.
The publicity given to sentences of excommunication could be used to influence public
opinion, generating support for a war, tarnishing a reputation or denouncing the acts of
a rival faction. Fulminations describing excommunicates’ crimes accompanied by a
striking liturgical rite could be an effective way to influence the attitudes of audiences.
Such publicity might be accepted or rejected. It might provoke scandal and public
unrest. The use of excommunication in this way certainly, however, increased the
political awareness of English parishioners.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Depositing User: Katie Miller
Date Deposited: 22 Mar 2017 11:05
Last Modified: 22 Mar 2017 11:05
URI: https://ueaeprints.uea.ac.uk/id/eprint/63061
DOI:

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